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With an annual direct purchasing power of over $200 billion,  it is not surprising that companies all over North America are competing for millennial customers. Born from 1980-2000, we are a highly-educated, career-driven, and tech-focused generation. However, recommendations for millennial customer service are just scratching the surface, and have missed some crucial points.

To reach and maintain millennial customers, customer service gurus and business magazines touted the necessity of tailored and accessible customer service methods.  This included ensuring that corporations offered real-time and omni-channel services that would be able to manage millennials contacting them on different channels, through different technologies, and at any time. Customer service gurus also highlighted the necessity of personalization and authenticity to appeal to and maintain millennial customers

Although these recommendations touch on the essentials, the reason why so many corporate campaigns are failing to draw in millennial customers is because these recommendations need to be understood under certain conditions.

The “Add Social Media and Stir” Approach

Several customer service articles have dedicated time and words to the importance of social media for millennials. Approximately ¾ of millennials in the U.S. have a social media profile on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (or fondly known as just “Insta” to some millennials).  But this does not mean that companies can just haphazardly create social media profiles and get results. The key in taking advantage of social media is remembering the main reason for its existence: to be social.

Social media sites are geared  towards different types of social activities. For example, Instagram is all about using images to illustrate and convey a certain lifestyle through pictures and videos. Individuals can comment on pictures and engage with other members of their community. Nike is a company that has done a great job at using Instagram to redefine what sports and an active lifestyle can look like. Through their pictures and videos, Nike shows what strength and perseverance looks like and the success that anyone can have if they “just do it.”  Nike also uses Instagram to drive engagement by asking followers for photos for their Instagram that demonstrate the Nike image. This not only drives customer engagement but proliferates Nike’s brand on a more personal level.

In contrast, Twitter is geared towards disseminating information quickly. This is a great function used to keep tabs on different individuals, groups and corporations and their updates. However, it is also a great and easy way for customers to reach out to companies. For customer service issues and general complaints customers can easily tweet at companies to get their attention. Bose is one company that is especially attentive to their customers on Twitter. After hearing that a customer’s headphones were destroyed by pests, Bose sent him a new pair of headphones within two days, free of charge, and with a handwritten note. Bose’s reaction highlights the possibilities of true omni-channel and real-time customer service through social media.

Beyond the intricacies of each platform there is also the resounding point that social media platforms are not just opportunities for companies to sell. In their own way each platform is kind of community and corporations must engage with others as a part of that community. For example, as a millennial I would never not respond to a friend who posted on my Facebook wall, so a  company who is trying to use Facebook should never neglect to respond to a person who comments on their wall.  Additionally, being proactive rather than reactive can give companies a competitive advantage.  Generating  and engaging with their online community will allow companies to not only build up a relationship with their customers but also solve problems before they occur.  The result is that just creating social media profiles will not enhance your customer service, but being social on social media will.

Pros and Cons of Digitization

You have probably heard it hundreds of times: millennials rely on technology and your customer service needs to accommodate that.  While this is true, there are limitations to this approach.  Online customer service is definitely not perfect. Tweeting at a company regarding a complicated issue may not be sufficient to fully address the problem. In this situation customers may just want to have a conversation with a company representative via phone or live chat, so that they may ask multiple follow-up questions and be guided through the process. Being engaged with your customers while also being there for the complex questions requires that companies balance their customer service approach with both traditional and technological customer service methods.

Without balancing your customer service approach you may leave the impression that you are not receptive to customers' needs. Recently I had an issue with an online service that had online self-help support forum. After posting a question on the forum, I was contacted by a brand ambassador who did not have an answer to my problem. As I was short for time, I then searched their website to see if I could find a phone number or a live chat service. I did end up finding a phone number but it was only for billing issues. This really communicated to me how important I was to the company. My issue only deserved in-person contact when there was an issue with money.  As a result I no longer use their service. Case-in-point: regardless of the type of service you provide, make sure it can address all needs and shows your customer how important they are to you.

Scanning the Horizon:  The Future Customer Experience for Millennials

Video chat has the possibility to combine the personal experience of sitting down with someone and chatting, with the real-time, anywhere customer service needs that millennials have today.  If the bugs were worked out, millennials such as myself could definitely do something as important as take out a loan with a company representative over video. This powerhouse combination could alleviate the current issues with online customer service and give companies an advantage over their old-school competitors.

Concluding Thoughts

Millennials have put new demands on companies for customer service. Scott Stratten, the president of Unmarketing, puts it well when he says that customers seek authenticity and expertise, so it really is all about positioning yourself as a trusted expert in front of your target market, so when they have the need, they choose you.

But, to effectively accommodate for their needs companies cannot just create social media profiles and expect results. They need to think about how each social media platform is used and adapt to it so they can promote their image and provide exceptional customer service.

Hayley McNorton was the Social Media Coordinator for Group Elite Communications Inc.  Hayley is now a Research Assistant at the Calian Group and has a Master of Arts Degree from Queen's University.  She now works in the private, public and non-profit sectors using research and analysis to craft policy, operational and legal recommendations.  In her work, Hayley has pitched recommendations for legislation to committees in the House of Commons and the Senate, and analysed trade and security policy for Ontario and Canada.  

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